Updated: 5/20/2020, 5 p.m.
Hawaii recorded two new coronavirus cases today, continuing a run of days with zero or few additional cases and spurring the moves to reopen the economy.
The state health department reported the number of recorded cases at 643; deaths stand at 17. The case count for Oahu is at 416, Maui County at 115, Hawaii Island at 79 and Kauai at 21. There are 10 cases diagnosed out of state. 578 people have been released from isolation.
COVID-19 testing to increase on Oahu
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell yesterday announced the city is working with public and private organizations to increase testing and COVID-19 research.
Using funds from the federal CARES Act and a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the city is pursuing three approaches to testing.
Caldwell said one is purchasing test kits from local labs rather than from Everlywell, a Nevada company, that had been a controversial choice when the city first announced its intention to contract with the firm for testing.
Instead, at least in this round, the city will work with Diagnostic Labs and Clinical Labs of Hawaii and perform more tests at Oahu’s seven community health centers.
The city is proceeding ahead with expanded testing despite the state Department of Health's opposition to broad testing -- a position that has been criticized by Caldwell and others.
"The city would pay to have the test conducted. And then of course, they would be analyzed by a Diagnostics Lab, and the results would be given to the [state] Department of Health to report," the mayor said. "But more importantly, if we find out that someone has tested positive, we would quickly go and do contact tracing – working with the Department of Health. And if some others are tested positive, to isolate them, so the virus does not spread."
The Rockefeller Foundation partnership is part of a national effort to increase testing across the country from the current one million a week to 30 million by fall, when some experts believe there could be a second wave of COVID-19 cases.
The city is also using up to $4 million for a testing and research laboratory at the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine. The UH lab would analyze the tests and develop new ways to screen for COVID-19.
"This lab would be funded by CARES money to provide testing – both for the swab format testing, that’s the PCR testing, but also antibody testing, which is where we’re all going in the long term," Caldwell said.
"We’re hoping that we can provide up to about 49,000 antibody tests in the next year, working with the John A. Burns School of Medicine. This way, we can be ready to address future waves when they occur, and still continue to open up while we’re doing this."
The city would also conduct wastewater testing – which involves analyzing sewage for genetic traces of the coronavirus. Caldwell says while this testing won’t provide details of who is infected with COVID-19 – it does provide information for the city.
"What it can tell us is the prevalence of COVID-19 in our wastewater. It shows trend lines, and it alerts people whether there’s an increase in the virus. And this would be particularly interesting to know as we open up to visitors. And most visitors in our island end up in Waikiki," he said.
"If somehow we saw an increase in COVID-19 residue in our wastewater out in Sand Island Sewage Treatment Facility, it would tell us we have something going on in the urban core, and maybe in Waikiki."
The city’s Department of Environmental Services has already started collecting and testing sewage samples.
--HPR's Casey Harlow
Authorities report progress in enforcing mandatory quarantine
Law enforcement officials say the state has made strides in the last two weeks in enforcing the mandatory visitor quarantine, although loopholes remain that allow tourists to evade the requirement.
Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard told state senators yesterday that tourists found violating the quarantine and who are arrested must now post bail.
“So we worked it out that the judges will not release those quarantine people. The only way that they'll get released is if they bail, we cannot deny them bail. So if they make the $2,000 bail, then, you know, they're free to go. So what happens is that then the next morning, we've set up a virtual arraignment and plea at the police station and so the judges do the arraignment and plea that morning for the person who violated the quarantine," Ballard said.
"So that I think basically the choices are, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that you either are going to go back to the house where you're going to be quarantined and you stay there or you’re back on the plane and you're going back home again.”
Attorney General Clare Connors said authorities have also successfully convinced the court to approve ankle bracelets for those who were likely to break quarantine.
The senators also heard from Angela Keen, a former news reporter and representative of a group called Hawaii Quarantine Kapu Breakers that has been tracking visitors who break quarantine and reporting them to law enforcement agencies.
Keen said the quarantine is not working and described visitors who have wandered from their hotel rooms and vacation rentals, some renting cars and posting pictures on social media.
The senators called for owners of rental cars and vacation rentals to sign forms agreeing to report tenants who violate the quarantine order. Some lawmakers also want police to have less discretion in issuing warnings and citations and making arrests.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority and the state Department of Transportation's airports division reported that an improved visitor form and better data collection are giving authorities more details about a visitor's lodging location, length of stay, identification and other information to help with enforcement.
Kathy Sokugawa, acting director of the city Department of Planning and Permitting, said her department is limited in what enforcement it can carry out against vacation rental owners who lease to tourists. Short-term rentals, whether legal or not, are not allowed to rent to visitors, but many get around the prohibition.
Meantime, visitor arrivals have been increasing despite the mandatory quarantine. The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported 1,093 people arrived in the islands on Monday, including 309 visitors.
Other arrivals included 392 returning residents, 133 crew members, 84 saying they intend to relocate to Hawaii, 44 who are exempt from quarantine by the state, 63 military, 68 transiting travelers.
Hawaii Island beaches open with safety guidelines
With the exception of Hakalau Beach Park and Kūhiō Kalaniana‘ole Park, all County of Hawaii beach and shoreline parks, are now open from 7 a.m to 6 p.m. through June, Mayor Harry Kim announced.
The county received approval from Gov. David Ige yesterday to open the beaches and parks immediately under safety guidelines similar to those being followed by Oahu, Maui and Kauai.
The guidelines include:
• Groups cannot exceed 10 people.
• Those who are not part of the same household or living unit must abide by social distancing requirements, although caregivers can accompany a dependent.
• All permits and reservations for us at the beach parks have been canceled.
• All pavilions, playgrounds, sports courts and fields, indoor facilities and other areas where groups may gather will remain closed.
• Commercial activities are not allowed.
• All other state and county COVID-19 restrictions must be followed, including including quarantine requirements.
The county will later assess whether to extend the beach and park openings beyond June. Kim is working with the parks department to decide on the next reopening phase of county facilities, such as tennis courts and pickleball courts.
Kauai seeks governor's approval to open hair salons, other businesses
Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami is asking Gov. David Ige to allow the reopening of barbers, hair and nail salons, churches and other businesses and activities on May 22.
Kawakami said in his daily video briefing that the operations would resume following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state Departmemt of Health guidelines.
The businesses to reopen would include:
• Outdoor tours and guided experiences, including Zipline operations, ATV tours and horseback tours.
• Churches and faith-based workshop.
• One-on-one services or lessons, such as tutoring, fitness and training.
• Salons and barberships, including nail salons.
• Housekeeping and other sanitation and cleaning services.
• All manufacturing or construction operations that may still be closed.
• Pools and common areas for residents and visitors who have successfully completed the mandatory quarantine.
The mayor said the county is working on reopening of other businesses, such as modified dine-in services, parks and playgrounds, gyms and spas.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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